Fred Fisher

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Prolific and successful German-born composer of popular songs in the early half of the twentieth century.
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One of the more popular Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the early 20th century, Fred Fisher was by most accounts a colorful and somewhat high-strung character. He was born to American parents in Cologne, Germany, on September 30, 1875 (his last name was originally spelled Fischer). He ran away from home at age 13 and joined the German navy; when his stint was over, he migrated to France to serve in the French Foreign Legion. He moved to the United States in 1900 and settled in Chicago, where he learned to play piano from a local tavern musician. He began composing his own songs in 1904, and scored his first hit the following year with "If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon." He teamed up with frequent partner Alfred Bryan to write 1910's "Come Josephine in My Flying Machine," which was later sung by the two main characters in the modern-day blockbuster film Titanic. Other successful numbers from this era included "When I Get You Alone Tonight" and "Any Little Girl That's a Nice Little Girl Is the Right Little Girl for Me," as well as ethnic novelty tunes on the order of his initial breakthrough. He and Bryan scored a major hit with 1913's "Peg o' My Heart," which took its place as a classic pop standard as numerous pop and jazz artists recorded their own versions over the next few decades. Fisher Anglicized the spelling of his name (from Fischer) when World War I made it undesirable to have any possible Germanic associations. During the 1910s and early '20s, he wrote extensively for Broadway revues and vaudeville shows, and a series of "place" songs -- "I'm on My Way to Mandalay," "There's a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway," "Ireland Must Be Heaven, for My Mother Came From There," "Norway (The Land of the Midnight Sun)," "When It's Moonlight on the Alamo" -- gave him another commercially effective gimmick. He also had a hit with "They Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me," written with lyricist Joe McCarthy, and scored wartime successes with songs like "Lorraine, My Sweet Alsace Lorraine" (again with Bryan) and "Oui, Oui, Marie" (with both Bryan and McCarthy). In 1919, Fisher wrote the lyrics to Felix Bernard's composition "Dardanella"; the recording by Ben Selvin's orchestra became most likely the first in America ever to sell a million copies. Working on his own, Fisher hit it big again in 1922 with "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)," an affectionate tribute to his American hometown that, unsurprisingly, proved hugely popular among its residents. First associated with vaudeville singer Blossom Seeley, it was recorded by numerous artists over the years, even more than the similarly minded "Sweet Home Chicago" or "My Kind of Town." Ironically, Fisher moved to Los Angeles just a few years later, having been recruited to write soundtrack music for silent films. Thus established in Hollywood, his proven track record made him a logical choice to contribute songs to some of the earliest movie musicals; most notably, Fanny Brice recorded "I'd Rather Be Blue Over You (Than Happy With Someone Else)" (with lyrics by Billy Rose) for her 1928 film My Man. That same year, Paul Whiteman's orchestra had a hit with Fisher's "There Ain't No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears." Fisher's writing tailed off during the '30s, but he didn't completely vanish; in 1936, his collaboration with lyricist Ada Benson, "Your Feet's Too Big," became a smash hit for jazz piano legend Fats Waller. Toward the end of the decade, his health began to decline, but he managed to write some numbers with his daughter Doris Fisher; one of them, 1940's "Whispering Grass," became a substantial hit for the Ink Spots (particularly in the U.K.). As his health continued to worsen, Fisher chose to commit suicide rather than face further deterioration; he died on January 14, 1942, in New York City. He was the subject of a highly fictionalized biographical film musical, Oh You Beautiful Doll, in 1949. He was later inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.